Washington D.C. – President Joe Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) (H.R.6256) into public law on December 23, 2021, to prevent goods made with forced labor in the People’s Republic of China, particularly the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, from entering the U.S. market. On Monday, January 24, as required by this law, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, on behalf of the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force (FLETF), opened public comments on its implementation strategy until March 10, 2022.
For information on how and where to comment, visit https://www.regulations.gov.
The long-debated UFLPA passed through both chambers of Congress with strong bipartisan support and has the potential to significantly impact companies with supply chain connections to China.
The bill was originally voted in on September 22, 2020, and passed the House 406-3, with the three no votes belonging to Justin Amash, Warren Davidson, and Thomas Massie.
The bill was then reintroduced in the 117th Congress and passed the Senate on July 14, 2021. A similar bill, H.R.1155, passed the House 428-1 on December 8, 2021, and on December 14, 2021, a revised version of H.R.6256, that effectively combined both bills, passed the House and the Senate two days later before being signed by the President.
“We will continue doing everything we can to restore the dignity of those who yearn to be free from forced labor. We call on the Government of the People’s Republic of China to immediately end genocide and crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” the U.S. Department of State wrote in a news release December 23.
Allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang and their connections to internment camps
In May 2014, the Chinese government launched its “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism,” targeting native Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the only region in China with a majority Muslim population.
Since then, over a million people have been arbitrarily contained in 300 to 400 facilities, subjecting prisoners to mistreatments including rape and torture, merely for sending Islamic religious recordings to family or downloading an ebook in Uyghur, Human Rights Watch reported.
Detainees are forced to denounce their religion, forbidden to speak their language, and commanded to praise President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party in what some consider to be a systemic, government-led, program of cultural genocide.
China has rejected accusations of forced labor or any other abuses that take place there.
When challenged by U.S. ambassador for religious freedom Sam Brownback in 2019, initially the Chinese government denied the camps existed altogether. With rising pressure from governments and media outlets across the globe, China eventually admitted to the existence of the camps but defended them as voluntary schools for anti-extremism training, more similar to a “boarding school” than a “concentration camp” for which the “people are appreciative of.”
According to Cotton: The Fabric Full of Lies, a 2019 book by Han Lianchao, Vice President of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, Lianchao suspected that many of these incarcerated Uyghurs are used for forced labor in numerous industries, similar to the 500,000 to 800,000 other prisoners held in over 70 prisons throughout the Xianjing region.
Since 84 percent of China’s cotton, any cotton, textile or garment production is conducted in the Xianjing region, Lianchao concluded his study by saying that most cotton products sourced from China, including products entering the U.S. and Europe, are likely tainted with forced labor.
Lianchao’s suspicions were given a new validity a month later when Nury Turkel, an Uyghur-American lawyer and Human Rights Activist, testified to Congress that Uyghur people held in the Xinjiang re-education camps are often relocated to factories as forced labor workers.
The New York Times reported in 2020 that an estimated roughly one in five cotton garments sold globally contain cotton or yarn from Xinjiang and found evidence connecting the detention of Uyghurs to supply chains of major fashion retailers.
All goods made with forced labor have been banned in the U.S. since 1930, under the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which includes those with reasonable evidence of forced labor in the creation of these goods.
Companies with ties to Uyghur forced labor
In March 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published a report, “Uyghurs for Sale,” identifying 83 global companies and brands as being linked, either directly or indirectly, to forced labor in Uyghur within 27 factories across nine Chinese provinces.
The companies found to have ties to Uyghur forced labor in ASPI’s report were:
- Abercrombie & Fitch,
- BAIC Motor
- Calvin Klein
- Cerruti 1881
- Changan Automobile
- Cisco, CRRC
- Founder Group
- GAC Group (automobiles)
- Geely Auto
- General Motors
- Hart Schaffner Marx
- Jack & Jones
- Japan Display Inc.
- Land Rover
- Polo Ralph Lauren
- SAIC Motor
- Tommy Hilfiger
- Tsinghua Tongfang
- Victoria’s Secret
Some of these companies have since taken steps to sever ties with forced labor factories in China including Nike, H&M, and Intel, resulting in boycotts from Chinese consumers. Swedish fashion retailer H&M suffered a 23 percent drop in Chinese sales after publicly stating they would stop sourcing cotton from Xinjiang, as a result of these boycotts.
Many companies, however, continue to operate as normal, with some continuing to open new facilities.
Just eight days after Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, Texas-based car manufacturing company Tesla Inc. opened a new showroom in Xinjiang to global criticism from activists and lawmakers.
Boycott of Winter Olympics
The United States and many of its allies, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, and Japan, confirmed a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games scheduled to take place in Beijing starting February 4, citing China’s human rights record as their primary cause.
Although these countries still plan to send athletes to compete in the games, they will not be sending country representatives.
Other countries such as Austria, New Zealand, Slovenia, and Sweden have also stated they will refrain from sending Government representatives to Beijing, but cited the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak as their primary reason for doing so.